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Try as we did to keep things “business as usual”, the warehouse industry had a lot to contend with when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

From social distancing rules affecting the amount of workers on the floor at any given time, to an influx of demand from online shoppers and essential retail outlets trying to keep up with the surge in demand from panic-buying consumers (particularly for food storage warehouses), a number of unforeseen challenges and obstacles arose over the past few months, and even the most skilled and agile warehouses were left fighting to keep up.

While we’ve all been trying to figure out what works best for our individual warehouses and situations, a bigger meta question has been raised: what are the general guidelines and best practices for warehouses during this pandemic?

 

In an attempt to unify and solidify the needs and goals of warehouses affected by COVID-19 (which is to say “basically all of them”), a number of warehouse research organizations have begun to look into what potential best practices could be for warehouses after the COVID-19 pandemic, to better protect their customers, workers, and products.

While the needs of any given warehouse will vary depending on their unique needs, there’s a few best practices that every warehouse can focus on during COVID-19 to help at various points along the way:

 

Supply chain transparency: Right now, more than ever, the entire supply chain needs to be as open and transparent as possible. Keep communication open with each of your vendors, logistics providers, and end customers (whether they be other retail outlets, or direct consumers) to let them know what shipments are en route, what ones are running late, and when you can expect more of any given item. The difference that communication with your customers can make may just keep them around, even during the pandemic.

 

Addressing employee concerns: Speaking of transparency, making sure your employees feel heard and acknowledged is going to go a long way towards quelling their concerns about COVID-19 and keeping them around for the long haul. Take time to periodically contact your staff and ask them questions like:

  • Are your work hours being affected by COVID-19?
  • Do you feel like the company is providing adequate safety precautions?
  • How concerned are you about COVID-19 in general?

These will help you take the temperature of the room and learn what your workers are most concerned about during the pandemic, even if they’ve remained gainfully employed the entire time.

 

Allow greater working from home: While a lot of workers were maybe hoping the opportunity would come under better circumstances, allowing more of your back-office staff to work from home for even part of their normal schedule can go a long way to encourage social distancing. Define a schedule that will allow your office staff to rotate in and out as needed, accounting for things like inventory counts or major meetings (both within the company and with current/potential clients).

 

Social distance on the floor: For the workers that can’t perform their jobs remotely, they need greater safety allotments to ensure they’re kept safe from potential illness while performing their duties in the warehouse, one of the greatest (and most enforced) of which is social distancing. This will require a little creativity on your part – you’ll need to space out your warehouse shelving and pallet racks to allow for the room, and you’ll need to stagger your schedules and pick routines, but it will be more than worth it when the time comes to get your staff back to work.

 

Limited access: Finally, this one may be the hardest to implement, but by creating stricter routines for when, how, and where workers can access your facility, you can limit the risk of exposure to illness for everyone involved. Keep lunch breaks on-site, set up temperature checks at every entry point (with instructions to turn away anyone who fails the test), and limit the amount of workers in any given entryway at one time to encourage social distancing and prevent the accidental spread of any illness.

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